I don’t remember being afraid the day my mother and I climbed out onto the side of a mountain in Yellowstone to play in a patch of snow. But to hear my mother tell the story, I should’ve been.
She claimed we nearly died that day.
It was one of the summer vacations we took up to Bellingham, Washington, to visit my great aunt Della and uncle Charlie and their adult children and grandchildren who lived in Seattle. My parents and I would pile into our blue 1967 Chevy with a white top, along with my grandparents, and set out on our three week excursion.
We always stopped in Yellowstone. Once we drove up a mountain where you were only allowed to go so far in your own car. Then you had to park and ride a school bus on up to the top of the mountain, above the timber line, on a narrow gravel road. Now my dad and my grandmother, daredevils that they were, had no hesitation about getting on that bus to make the trek up to the top of the mountain. My mom and my grandfather, on the other hand, weren’t about to get on that bus. They took one look at the width of the road, the ice on the road, and the size of that bus, and said they’d be happy to wait there in the parking lot until the bus came back down.
Six year old Sally stayed down at the base with her mama and pawpaw.
We were already pretty high up on the mountain and there were patches of snow all around us. Most of them were out of reach, but my mom found one that she thought we could get to safely, so she took me by the hand and we started down the side of the mountain toward the snow.
I was thrilled at the thought of playing in the snow in July.
With my mom leading the way, we side-stepped down the grassy part of the hill, but the snow was farther than she thought, and the walk became steeper. Her grip was tightening on my hand.
I never knew that her feet were sliding under the patches of ice. I never realized how far we would’ve fallen if one of us had slipped.
We made it just to the edge of the snow and she grabbed up a handful before telling me we needed to go back. By then I was beginning to lose the circulation in my fingers, but other than that, Mama never indicated we were in any danger.
But by the time we got back to the car where I excitedly showed my pawpaw the snowball, Mama couldn’t talk without stuttering.
As I stepped around ice patches the last couple of days, I remembered that trek with my mama. Never once was I afraid.
Her body might have given out three years ago today, but her spirit is so alive. In everything I see and do. Everywhere I go.
The safety I felt in her grip of my hand, in her mere presence. I still feel that.
Never any reason to be afraid.